A place in the South Atlantic sun

Protecting the shallow water marine environment in the Falklands


Each year, more than 50,000 tourists visit the Falklands Islands (one of the UK’s most remote Overseas Territories) to see some of its spectacular wildlife – emperor penguins, rockhoppers, wandering albatrosses, elephant seals and southern sea lions, as well as a wide range of cetaceans, including killer whale, can all be viewed from the land.


Falkland flightless steamer ducks © Nikki Chapman/JNCCHowever, for the Falklands, an archipelago in the south-west region of the South Atlantic Ocean, some 480 km from the coast of Argentina, tourism is only the second largest source of income. The greatest provider is the fisheries sector, specifically the sale of offshore fisheries licences, three-quarters of which are sold for squid fisheries. To date, no exploitation of inshore fisheries has taken place and hence the shallow marine environment remains in a pristine condition.

A little-known habitat

Nevertheless, staff of the Falklands Fisheries Department (FFD) recognise that little is known about this delicate and vulnerable habitat and are conscious of the potential effects of future inshore fisheries. As a result, in 2006, the FFD (which is based in Stanley, the Falklands capital, and whose research division provides expert scientific knowledge and advice to make the decisions essential for conservation, sustainable management and development of the Falkland Islands’ fisheries resources) established the Shallow Marine Survey Group (SMSG). The core group is made up of FFD staff working in their spare time. It co-ordinates and conducts assessments of the status of inshore resources around the Falkland Islands. The scope of the work includes the splash zone, inter-tidal and subtidal environments on sandy, pebble and rock beaches of Falkland Islands’ shores.

First recruit

The Falklands has coastline of approximately 1,300 km, representing a substantial amount of survey work for SMSG. The Group has now recruited its first full-time member of staff, Karen Neely, who is responsible for the co-ordination of all the inter-tidal and subtidal surveys, and promotes the Group’s work. This one-year appointment was made possible through Falklands Conservation and SMSG personnel Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP) funds.Rockhopper penguin © Nikki Chapman/JNCC


Currently, Karen is developing a survey programme specific to the Falklands marine environment, including establishing an inventory of all the marine species and habitats to help identify areas that would most benefit from management and protection. The survey techniques employed in the Falklands will be broadly based on Marine Nature Conservation Review survey methodologies that JNCC staff employed between 1987 and 1998 around the UK mainland coastline (http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-3356 ).


To assist this process, Nikki Chapman from JNCC, funded by SMSG’s OTEP funds, met up with Karen in the Falklands in December 2008. The aims of this trip were to:

  • provide an overview of MNCR survey techniques;
  • provide information on the functions of JNCC, especially its marine teams;
  •  provide a link for information exchange, and
  • gain a better understanding of the unique marine habitats of the Falklands.


During the visit Nikki was able to participate in SMSG dives and experience at first hand the unique and diverse sea life, some of which has not yet been identified. Nikki’s visit also included a trip to Sea Lion Island, a Ramsar site, famous for its breeding sites for rockhoppers, gentoo penguins and elephant seals.


JNCC has also been providing some assistance with this programme by facilitating developments to the Marine Recorder database application http://www.jncc.gov.uk/page-1599) to enable SMSG to use this for collating and analysing data collected during the project.


Nikki Chapman

Overseas Territories Fundraising Officer

Tel: +44 (0) 1733 866924